I had a brilliant conversation with a retired entrepreneur named Bill down at the Christchurch Occupation earlier today.
Max Chubaba (an Indian-born Kiwi), Popx (an English-born Kiwi) and Rob joined us in moving to pin down exactly what it is that the Occupy movement is seeking to achieve, in real terms. When I explained that we were already doing it by engaging each other in this very conversation, he continued by challenging the motivations and philosophies that we have; and, in response, he stimulated us to articulate them in lucid and compelling ways.
One of the things I really appreciated about the exchange was that Bill began by questioning us extensively, not by piling in with his own views and opinions. He was genuinely interested in why we were occupying the space and engaging people in discussion.
He asked me what were the issues we were rallying against. I opened with child poverty (one in five children in New Zealand lives in relative poverty). As we explored the reasons for poverty, Bill and I had a solid exchange on “Choice” as a concept; that is, why it appears that we, who are ostensibly self-determining and autonomous human beings who make decisions for ourselves, end up poor, or abusive, or stuck in the state beneficiary system, when instead we can ‘choose’ to do better?
His position was that we are all able to raise ourselves out of poverty, if we simply choose to do the work necessary.
My position in response eventually came down to the observation that even if we do have that choice, we may not be aware of it on a conscious level. If we are raised in an environment that makes us feel worthless, or unsupported, or that simply brain-washes us into taking a place within the societal system and not trying any further, then we are severely handicapped, and that choice has little meaning.
So he queried me further: why is that?
It had been almost an hour since we’d begun our discussion, in the sunshine and warmth of Hagley Park in Christchurch, the “Garden City.” Max, Popx and Rob had since joined us. I suddenly realised I’d been skirting around the core of the challenge which we, as a movement, are seeking to change and evolve: The debt-based, greed-driven fractional reserve system of monetary economics and free-market enterprise, which sees us effectively born into indentured labour (some more-so than others), and which necessarily increases the rich-poor gap in order to continue.
Every year, our buying power decreases. Now, if we are in jobs which see us progress steadily up the income ladder, then there is very little problem for us—yippee.
However, if we are jobless, or in low-paying jobs with little chance of a steady pay increase, then our relative poverty increases year-by-year. This is, essentially, the cause of increasing poverty.
My case to Bill was that poverty is most-often generational. The vast body of research on the topic reflects this. When you are born into an environment of poverty, where your role-models are low-achieving and often abusive, then these become the standards by which you measure your own life. It is a cycle that, while it is possible to break, is intensely difficult to rise above. Lifting yourself out of poverty means busting out of the psychological and emotional cycle of low self-esteem, and actually believing in yourself. For a person who has spent their entire life growing up in an environment that teaches them exactly the opposite, this is almost (if not entirely) impossible.
Rich people such as Bill and I find that hard to wrap our heads around. We had decent schools, healthcare, and enough food and family & community support to stay ahead of that steadily rising poverty line. We’re doing okay.
We’re still in the debt-trap, though. We have to work harder and harder every year just to stay above that line.
Why do we need to struggle, when we have enough in the world to support everyone not just with food and shelter—we have enough resources in this world to support everyone psychologically and emotionally so they can realise the choice they have: The choice to be a self-determining, self-sufficient, autonomous, and compassionately contributing human being.
As a movement, Occupiers are doing everything we can to spread that message. We are powerful and compassionate beings and there is enough for all of us.
I am deeply grateful for Bill’s company at the Occupation today, because he has demonstrated those qualities to us: He has shown compassion and a teacher’s ethic in guiding us towards our own self-education. We have formed better and better words and ideas around our goals and motivations, and we are better enabled to communicate them to others as they stop by for a cup of tea, a sandwich and a chat.
I hope I get to talk to more people like Bill in the next while. I truly felt the depth of his compassion, and his contribution to the discussion.